In more ways than anyone would care to count, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live.
Near the top of the list are the ways in which we experience music. Live music venues — from concert halls and intimate clubs to festivals and cruises — were hit the hardest and the future of these performance spaces remains uncertain. Fortunately, we still have plenty of recorded music to enjoy while we face both the promise of a vaccine and the threat of further lockdowns.
L – Newly out lesbian singer/songwriter Jaime Wyatt is proof that Nashville’s not what it used to be. There have probably always been LGBT folks in Music City, and thanks to Wyatt, that community is becoming increasingly visible. A distinctive performer whose hardscrabble life has led to sobriety and the embracing of her queer identity, subjects she addresses on her “Neon Cross” (New West) album in songs such “Rattlesnake Girl,” “Make Something Outta Me” and “Just A Woman.”
G – Gay modern rock legend Bob Mould is among the hardest working men in music, proving that point by following up 2019’s aptly titled Sunshine Rock with the somewhat bluer “Blue Hearts” (Merge). Blue in terms of sexual content (check out “Leather Dreams”) as well as in the liberal political messaging in songs such as “American Crisis,” “Next Generation” and “Heart on my Sleeve,” all delivered in his trademark crunchy and blazing guitar rock style.
B – Resuming her career after it was briefly sidelined by a health crisis, bisexual singer/songwriter Rachael Sage came back better than ever, delivering her new album “Character” (MPress). When she sings “I have been through hell and back and back again/I was lucky to come out alive” in “Bravery’s On Fire,” the song sizzles with emotion. It’s fitting that Sage covers Ani DiFranco’s “Both Hands” because of what they have in common — being bi, young, female singer/songwriters who started and continue to record on their own record labels. Her cover of Neil Young’s “Ohio” is particularly poignant as 2020 was the 50th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State. Sage originals including the tango of “Cave,” the subtle twang of “Open The Door,” the gorgeous “Atmosphere” and the experimental rock of the title track are also worth a listen.
T – Already on a roll with love from Tegan and Sara, non-binary transmasc singer/songwriter Cartalk aka Chuck Moore released their debut "Pass Like Pollen" (cartalk.bandcamp.com), which plays like a hybrid of modern twang and vintage grunge with a general indie-rock vibe. This works well on “Noonday Devil,” “Las Manos,” “Driveway” and “Sleep” (with a Springsteen reference, no less!). Then, out of nowhere (well, somewhere, actually), Cartalk parks themselves in a space reserved for irresistible pop on “Wrestling” and Elliot Smith-like folk on “Something or Nothing,” which feels like finding a radio station so good, you don’t want to get out of the car.
Q – It's fitting that fiddler and banjo player Jake Blount, described as “one of the few queer, Black voices in Appalachian music” called his album “Spider Tales” (Free Dirt) because the elaborate and beautiful web he spins on it is sure to catch many listeners. A reclamation project, Blount adds a distinctly queer perspective to many of these tunes from early-to-mid 20th century by Josie Miles (“Mad Mama’s Blues”), Lucius Smith (“Goodbye, Honey, You Call That Gone”), Tommy Jarrell (“Boll Weevil”), Manco Sneed (“Done Gone”), Cuje Bertram (“Blackbird Says to the Crow”), as well as a contemporary composition; Judy Hyman’s “Beyond This Wall.” Blount’s take on Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” is particularly dazzling.
Gregg Shapiro is SFGN’s movie reviewer. His weekly reviews can be found at SFGN.com/screensavor.